Standing for the Rights of Women (and the Rest of Us) at the Wall

One month ago, a woman was arrested for wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) at the Western Wall. (Jerusalem Post article here.) It is illegal for women to pray as an organized group, to read Torah, or to wear a tallit at the Kotel, since these actions run counter to the sensibilities of certain sects of Ultra-Orthodox Jews whose leadership is in control of that place.

Last week, Women of the Wall gathered at the Kotel again,as they do every Rosh Chodesh. They were, once again, met with protest and abuse from onlookers. Click here for a moving first-hand account from Rabbi Stacey Blank, rabbi of Congregation Darchei Noam in Ramat HaSharon, Israel. She describes being shouted at and having things thrown at here, and the lessons and inspiration that she took away from this very powerful experience. Not to be missed!

Some would argue that liberal Jews should refrain from engaging in prayer actions at public places in Israel, since it offends the ultra-Orthodox. I agree that we should do away with offensive actions at the Kotel. I am offended by men shouting slurs at women in holy space. I am offended that a potato was thrown at my friend’s head because she wore a tallit. Do they actually believe that is more acceptable than women with prayer shawls?  I am offended by a government trying to define what is religiously correct based on the antiquated notions of a minority.

The slogan of the Reform movement in Israel is “There is more than one way to be Jewish.” This is a historical fact. There are – and have always been – many ways to be Jewish. It is not even correct to say that Orthodoxy does not know of women wearing a tallit or layning Torah. Witness Shirah Hadashah, an Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem in which women are entitled to read Torah and lead parts of the prayer service (within certain halachic constraints), and which does not begin its service until a minyan of women and a minyan of men is present.  Make no mistake – this is not about women and men. This is about ultra-Orthodoxy’s attempt to strictly control the meaning of the word “Judaism” in Israel.

There is no one correct definition of the word. Enough is enough.

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